British Columbia

Parents deserve better communication of gender and sexuality lessons, says LGBT advocate

Lesson plans and resources are available for the public to review online but some parents want more information and a chance to have a say in what children are learning about gender and sexuality.

'There's a lot of rhetoric that scares parents,' says Colin McKenna

Programs in B.C. schools that teach children about the importance of LGBTQ inclusion and diverse families has upset some parents who say they were never informed about the initiatives. ( Purple Sherbet Photography, Flickr)

A leader in the LGBT community is calling on the province to better communicate with concerned parents regarding new gender and sexual orientation policies in British Columbia schools.

Colin McKenna, the president of Parents and Family and Friends of LGBTQ (PFLAG) Vancouver, said parents would likely be relieved if they better understood what will be taught under the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity program (SOGI), a provincially mandated program that focuses on inclusivity and representation of diverse families.

"Unfortunately there's a lot of rhetoric that scares parents, and rightfully so, they don't understand what it's about," said McKenna who warned about the potential spread of misinformation.

Too much, too soon

The discussion around the appropriateness of such lessons erupted on Monday when Chilliwack, B.C., school board trustee, Barry Neufeld, took to Facebook to criticize SOGI as a "weapon of propaganda" and state his support of "traditional family values."

For some parents, the program feels like too much information for their young children.

In Langley, parents packed a September school board meeting to protest SOGI, and other parents have come forward with concerns.

But McKenna argues the lessons are age appropriate and necessary to make all students feel safe and welcome in public schools.

For example, kindergarten students will learn what constitutes a family and why using the word "gay" as an insult is harmful and why name calling is unacceptable.

In Grade 2, students examine gender roles in fairy tales and by Grade 5, they will have studied Canada's history as it relates to the LGBT community.

'One more tool'

Glen Hansman, president of the British Columbia Teachers' Federation (BCTF), said he is not surprised that some families were unaware of SOGI initiatives. 

He said the BCTF is not responsible for making these sorts of announcements, but noted that the provincial government made "a big splash" about it last year when the legislative changes were made that enabled initiatives like SOGI to enter school curriculums.

"This is just one more tool in a pre-existing toolbox, none of this work is new," he told Gloria Macarenko, guest host of CBC's On The Coast.

SOGI materials and resources have been developed for school districts to use in health, gym, language arts, social studies and art classes. 

Chilliwack School Board chairman, Paul McManus, said Neufeld's views are his own and do not reflect the opinions of the board. 

McManus said board members will assemble in the next 24 to 38 hours to determine how to move forward in light of Neufeld's comments.

With files from On the Coast and B.C. Almanac and Bridgette Watson.

To hear the complete interviews with Glen Hansman and Paul McManus, click on the audio labelled Chilliwack School Board and BCTF respond to SOGI controversy.